INTRODUCTION Making Transatlantic Connections

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1 Legal Guide To Doing Business In The USA S etting up operations in the US can be an effective way to fast track your company s growth. Yet before taking the plunge, it is essential to understand the legal basics of doing business across the pond. New York City is often the first port of call for UK entrepreneurs. From the standpoint of flight-times, time zones and cultural affinity, New York City may be a sensible location from which to expand into the US while keeping an eye on business back home. This guide aims to help you set up in New York, but the information in this publication also generally applies to all 50 US states. The right choice of location will be influenced by INTRODUCTION a number of factors, including proximity to customers, suppliers and potential investors, ease of management, availability of talent, and costs of operation. Of course, the guidance offered here is intended to serve as a mere introduction to some of the key legal issues relating to companies that want to do business in the US. It is not intended to provide legal advice. When setting up in the US, it is important not to underutilize, or overpay, lawyers getting these things wrong can be expensive to fix, but it shouldn t cost a lot to get them right. For more details on the legal aspects of US expansion, you can access and download our guide Coming to America: The Legal Basics. Making Transatlantic Connections THE legal guide to business 1

2 SETTING UP THE BUSINESS The maximum US federal income tax rate currently is 39.6% for individuals and 35% for corporations T he first consideration when expanding into the US is how you will structure your business. In theory, there are two options. You could operate through a branch of your British business or you could set up a US subsidiary. As a practical matter, though, you will nearly always want to set up a separate subsidiary. This permits a clear tax separation between your UK and US businesses and may also be of some help in protecting your non-us business from US liability. Where to incorporate? Corporations in the US are formed under the laws of a US state there is no such thing as a national corporation. We typically recommend that startups incorporate in the state of Delaware. The law is well-developed, the courts are good, your US investors will be familiar with Delaware entities and, perhaps most importantly, US business lawyers nationwide will provide advice and formal opinions on basic matters under the Delaware General Corporation Law. Incorporating your subsidiary in Delaware does not require you physically to locate your business there. Once your subsidiary has been incorporated, you can easily qualify it to do business in the states in which you locate your operations. Which business structure? You have the option of setting up your operating subsidiary either as a corporation (this is similar to an English private limited company) or a limited liability company (known as an LLC). For most non-us companies setting up in the US, a corporation (sometimes referred to as a C corporation) is probably the better choice, because it is well-known to customers and other counterparties and automatically is treated as a separate person for US tax purposes. There may be circumstances where it will make sense to have a US holding company above the operating subsidiary, and in that context you could consider whether an LLC may make sense. Back Office Unfortunately, the paperwork does not stop once you have incorporated your business. You will need to address a variety of compliance areas, including: annual corporation returns; federal, state and local tax returns (corporate income tax, possibly property tax, possibly sales tax); payroll and employee benefits; book keeping; and employee tax withholding. Luckily, these services are provided on an outsourced basis by a number of suppliers, including groups that focus on emerging companies, local accounting firms, and the like. Some will offer fixed fee packages; all should be prepared to provide transparency as to costs. taxes ax matters are complex, especially T in a cross-border context, and very much depend on the specific facts and circumstances of the particular situation. The key, then, is to get good advice from experienced professionals to help you navigate these choppy waters. Key areas that you will need to address include: intra-group agreements between your UK parent and US subsidiary that clearly identify who is doing what for whom. If the US company is a reseller of the parent s services, the parent typically will be providing IP, other services, head office services and the like. The parent should charge for these on arm s length basis. Conversely, if the subsidiary is performing services for the parent for example, as a sales agent the subsidiary should be properly compensated for what it is doing. UK tax implications if UK residents comprise a majority of the board of your US subsidiary or if your US subsidiary holds board meetings in the UK (this may cause your US subsidiary, which is automatically a US domestic taxpayer, also to be treated as a UK domestic taxpayer by the UK tax authorities). federal and state tax withholding in respect of US-based employees. tax treatment of any employees who are transferred from the UK to the US. tax treatment of any UK employee benefit plans that you would like to extend to your US employees, including equity grants. THE legal guide to business 2

3 Employees vs. contractors A s in the UK, it is important in the US that you properly classify as employees, and not as independent contractors, those persons who function as your employees. You are required to withhold taxes from employees, and make social payments (social security, workers compensation, etc.) for them, so you can be penalized if you get this wrong. The tests are similar to those in the UK, but the enforcement risk is probably greater in the US. Be wary about treating someone who works only for you as a contractor, particularly if the individual works on your premises and you control how he or she works (set hours of work, day to day assignments as opposed to projects, supervision by you as to how the work is done, etc.). Employment contracts not required You are not required to have employment contracts with your employees in the US, and most US employees don t have contracts. That being said, you will want to have a confidentiality and intellectual property assignment agreement with virtually all of your employees. While employees who do not have contracts are employees at will and in theory employment can be fired without cause or notice, as a practical matter this is constrained by the employee s ability to bring discrimination, harassment, whistle-blower or other claims and the ease of bringing those claims. Additionally, employees are entitled to rely on what you promise them in offer letters, policy statements and the like. Although employment agreements are not required, you may find it useful to have employment agreements with your more senior employees. You can include reasonable restrictive covenants (including post-termination non-competes and non-solicitation of employees and customers) in virtually all states except California, where they are unenforceable. Additionally, you can agree severance arrangements in an employment agreement on the condition that the employee must sign a release at the time of departure if he or she wants to receive the severance payment rather like a compromise agreement fixed in advance. Compensation packages In order to attract and hire US employees, it is important for your business to offer compensation packages that compete with other businesses in the market. US compensation packages often include a range of benefit programs, such as: Health insurance a key benefit in the US, since there is no National Health Service. Employers over a certain size are required to provide health insurance, and you may well need to provide it to be competitive. Other benefit programs, such as life insurance. Retirement savings: it is common to offer retirement savings programmes, for example through defined contribution plans (such as so-called 401(k) programs) that receive favourable tax treatment. Other benefits: these can include flexible spending programmes, commuter reimbursement, car allowances, etc. Of course, equity compensation (which should be structured at the UK parent level, not the US subsidiary level) and cash bonus plans often are also key elements of senior executive compensation, and sales personnel may expect sales-related bonuses. Y ou need to sort out your IP position before you go to the US. Intellectual property rights (trademarks, patents, etc.) are territorial, so your UK or EU protections do not carry over to the US. You should seek US trademarks for the marks that are key to your business before you enter the US, and, in particular, before you engage in expensive marketing campaigns. The US trademark position is complicated by the fact that, while there is a federal registration system, one can get rights under state and federal law for unregistered marks simply by using them. While those rights are limited to the territories where the use occurs, they can still be a major obstacle to your 50 state coverage. Consequently, a first step, working with a trademark lawyer, is to use a third party search service to conduct a search for the same or INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY confusing similar marks in your intended fields of use. Assuming that the search does not turn up obstacles, you should then utilize a US trademark lawyer to apply to register your marks with the US Patent and Trademark Office. On the patents side, you may face claims by US competitors who are seeking to keep you out of the market, and by non-practicingentities (so-called patent trolls) who are seeking license fees from you. You will want to have a general sense of your potential IP exposure before entering the US market, not least because any contractual counterparties will be looking for you to provide indemnities against patent claims (which in any case need to be carefully negotiated). Offensively, it may be worthwhile to consider with US patent counsel whether to seek your own patents in particular, the scope for patents on software in the US may be a bit broader than in the UK. You may conclude that the best way to protect your key intellectual property is by protecting it as trade secrets. In order to do so, be sure to get confidentiality undertakings from anyone (including your employees and contractors) who will have access to your trade secrets. Be wary of confidentiality agreements that expire with time, which are common the US once they expire, your counterparty will have complete freedom to publish (say, on the Internet) or use anything you have provided. THE legal guide to business 3

4 IMMIGRATION I f you intend to transfer personnel to the US to run your new US operation, obtaining appropriate visas for them is likely to take longer than any of the other steps in your US establishment. For example, while some categories of non-immigrant visas that permit your personnel to work in the US could be secured in several months, others could take as long as six months to a year (and you may have difficulty in some cases in getting a visa at all). So it is important to obtain early advice from a US immigration lawyer as to the alternatives below and other possible options. Visa Waiver Programme and B-1 Visitor Visa For citizens of the UK and many other countries, the Visa Waiver Programme allows travel to the US without a visa, though one must obtain an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) authorisation before travelling. Once in the US, you are allowed to conduct limited business purposes (i.e. attending meetings and conferences), but not be employed. At some point, if you travel back and forth frequently, you may start to face questions at the border from Homeland Security personnel who may be concerned that you are working in the United States. You may want to consider obtaining a B-1 visitor visa. The scope of permitted activities is not significantly broader under the B-1 visa than under visa waiver, but the fact that the US Embassy has granted the visa may help to support that you are not working in the US. Non-Immigration Visas that Permit Personnel to Work in the US There are several categories of visas that you are likely to use to transfer personnel to the US. E visas (which can be used by companies investing in, or setting up trading relationships with, the US) are particularly useful if their requirements are met, since they can be issued by the US Embassy without prior approval from US Citizenship and Immigration Services and have a term of up to five years. However, E visas have certain nationality and other requirements. If an E visa is not available or is not appropriate, an L intracorporate transferee visa may be available to transfer executive and managerial personnel or employees with specialised knowledge to the US. It is important to obtain early advice from a US immigration lawyer THE legal guide to business 4

5 FRIED FRANK ried Frank is a leading international law firm, headquartered in New York, with approximately 450 attorneys throughout the US, Europe and Asia. Our London office, located in F the heart of the Shoreditch tech cluster, works with some of the world s largest companies in their most significant transactions, as well as emerging companies seeking to expand to the US and access international markets. We work with key contributors to the tech community start-ups, accelerators, investors, multinational enterprises and government organizations to provide US legal and business expertise in corporate structuring, financing, M&A, commercial contracts, IP, tax, employment, real estate and litigation. For more information, visit tech.friedfrank.com Making Transatlantic Connections For more information on how we can help with US expansion, contact: Daniel Glazer Robert Mollen THE legal guide to business 5

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